BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan – Their relationship on Earth may be at its lowest ebb in decades, but the U.S. and Russia haven’t allowed their disagreements over Ukraine get in the way of their joint mission in space.
In the early hours of today, a rocket carrying a Russian-American crew to the International Space Station blasted off successfully from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The Soyuz booster rocket lifted off as scheduled at 3:17 a.m., lighting up the night skies over the steppe with a giant fiery tail. It entered a designated orbit in about 10 minutes after the launch. All onboard systems were working flawlessly, and the crew was feeling fine.
The crew – NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev – are set to dock the Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft at the station less than six hours after the launch and are scheduled to stay in orbit for six months.
Swanson is a veteran of two U.S. space shuttle missions, and Skvortsov spent six months at the space outpost in 2010. Artemyev is on his first flight to space.
So far, the tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine have been kept at bay. Since the retirement of the U.S. shuttle fleet in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft as the only means to ferry crew to the orbiting outpost and back.
The U.S. pays Russia nearly $71 million per seat to fly astronauts to the space lab through 2017.